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    • Rationality Is A Process, Not A Conclusion (Nuclear Weapons Edition)
      A lot of mistakes come from assuming rationality means “thinks the same way I do” rather than “reasons from premises I might not share.” Left than 1/1000 economists predicted the financial collapse, because they reasoned from assumptions like “the market is self-correcting” or “housing prices never go down.” (Sometimes both at the same time, which is rarely […]
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QAnon Offers Its Followers an Escape from Insignificance

You may have seen or read a little bit about that even weirder, if that is possible, fringe of the QAnon cult, which went down to Dallas awaiting the return of John F. Kennedy , Jr., who was then going to announce his support for Donald Trump to return to office. No other comment on this particular insane delusion is necessary.

What may be worthwhile, is to try to comprehend why so many people have eagerly flocked to the QAnon insanity. Not that we want to “understand them” in some New Age way, but they are out there, and some of them are probably dangerous, and so we should seek to figure out why they joined, why they persist in it, and why the conspiracy theories and the delusions seem to increase in scope.

Of course, that is what they say about hard drugs, the very limited knowledge of which I have obtained from reading about. Supposedly, an addict needs a larger dose, or an increase in effect, as the earlier levels do not continue to give them what they are seeking. That is a physiological effect, but there is also the psychological component, the search for a greater impact, a more powerful vision, something to exceed the previous experiences. This would be more common with something like LSD, than with the opiates, where the physiological effect is what is sought.

Cults are not hard drugs, but many people, including those who write about such things, like to use the analogy. The team “addiction” is overbroadly used, I think, with regard to so many things, but it may be the easiest way for us to try to understand what is going on.

I am not minimizing that aspect, but I like to try to understand it in more psychological and existential terms. Why do people join what we outside them call cults? Why are there all these literally insane conspiracy theories being voiced and believed, with regard to virtually every subject? Why do they, instead of going away, seem to morph into even more bizarre and unsettling “theories”?

One of my earlier essays here was with regard to QAnon, and some of my thoughts as to why various people are drawn to it. Without ever in the slightest sympathizing with these people, I wrote that I can perceive a certain appeal in being part of a group which agrees with you, where you can share your weirdest thoughts and get praise for them. And then the excitement of imagining that you are learning and discovering exciting new facts, so much better than dealing with the humdrum of daily life, particularly for those who essentially have no intellectual stimulation.

It is both ironic and inevitable that what we call “The Information Age” or “The Computer Age” should have led to this. I am far from knowledgeable about how computers work, but I think I can understand at least some of the cultural effects. What computers have done is to provide a different view of the world, akin to looking at the other end of the telescope. A world which seemed so immeasurable and diverse, now contracts so that one can theoretically communicate with anyone in it.

And while it might provide some people with the sense that they can have “friends” all over the world, it also creates the unsettling sense in people of being mundane. There are ten billion people or so out there, with similar thoughts, similar goals, the same tastes in music or desserts. That may initially be satisfying to know, but it ultimately could cause one to not feel very special, particularly if one lacks much of a sense of self.

And most people want to feel special in some way, not just be a metaphorical grain of sand on the beach. And if one indeed has never had much of an intellectual life, has never thrilled to being able to understand how the politics, social life, and art of a particular historical era all fit together; or had the excitement of finding a theme in a novel which ties it together in a new way, there is very little to provide the sense of uniqueness that one might crave. Of course, some paint their hair or skin a variety of colors, to fulfill a need for being special, but styles get copied very quickly, and then the excitement might go away.

But if one could join a group of people who essentially shared your view of what is going on in the world, and how it needs to be fixed, that can be rewarding. And then, when there is a group which avidly anticipates the new revelations of a mysterious person who calls himself “Q,” because he has a “Q Clearance,” which he says is the highest government clearance one can have, it becomes even more exciting.

And when “Q” tells his followers that what the rest of the people out there think or believe, is totally wrong, naive, and stupid, this is really thrilling. All those people out there: the professors , the pundits, the intellectuals, your neighbor, are totally wrong and unaware. But you, and your group, are being given a peek into the inner sanctum. All that sense you always had, that things are not what they seem; that there are shadowy malevolent figures pulling the strings, and cheating you out of those things you always knew you deserved, but which keep going to other people, was right!

You can’t wait for the next “Q Crumb.” And if his predictions do not come true, well, maybe they soon will; or they get changed into an even more exciting prediction; and the other one not materializing, was because the evil people interfered; but do not worry, Trump and his closest acolytes were prepared, and it all will result in an even more climactic result. In some sense, this is not unlike the promises of the con men, which I wrote about recently, but this is in a form which doesn’t look like the standard con, and it also has the advantage of playing into the preconceived views of its marks.

And what is the goal of Mr. Q? Well, I don’t know that there is just one of them, or if it is a group of people, or just what. I am sure that money goes to them, so that is one immediate and timeworn goal. And there may be something more insidious, an effort to control many people and get them to destroy civilization, to the extent that certain people will take over all the levers of power.

Who knows? It may have started as one thing, and evolved to another. I would guess that it was sort of a game for whoever started it. There are so many marks out there, people who pride themselves on being suspicious of every single thing they were told in school, from the moon landing, to the various assassinations of world leaders, to scientific findings, or health advisories; and yet wholly buy into anti-scientific, illogical nonsense.

But believing in it makes them special. It restores that sense of importance and power that they lost in the process of getting older and entering the world of disappointments and subtle insults, and things they don’t like or understand. They are special. Their group is special.

Ludicrously, they decide that Donald Trump, one of the stupidest, most venal and cruel people who ever existed, is the savior sent down to give them what they deserve. He will punish the devils in human form who keep telling them things they don’t want to hear, or helping people they hate. He, this bloated, sick-looking man whose virtually every body part is fake; who has never opened a book in his life, other than Hitler’s manifesto; who takes what he wants, as they so much want to do, is the person whom the god they profess to believe in, has sent down to fulfill their desires and save the world.

There is a strong element of religious fanaticism in these beliefs. Also racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, anti-intellectualism, anti-knowledge, anti-science; anger, hatred, violent fantasies. In regard to how Trump gives them an exemplification and validation of these impulses, he is indeed what they have wished for–except that he is the projection of who they are. They just never got to encounter anyone as loathsome to the people they hate, so they love him for it. It could have been someone else, but there he is. They have been prepared for this by decades of endless propaganda and hatred spewed out on radio and television.

Without their Q-Cult, they do not have anything to fulfill a certain part of them. And it’s fun. Most people slog along, worrying about bills, or living expenses, wondering how to give themselves a modicum of pleasure each day. The Q folks wake up excited; what will they learn today? When will Hillary and Nancy be burned at the stake? When will there be mass executions on the White House lawn? When will famous people of the past return to complete the circle; destroy their enemies, and bestow upon their group all the things they have longed for? That is something to look forward to wake up to each day.

So it can be compared to an addiction, or it can be viewed as adult children playing detective, or superhero. In the superhero stories, they mostly fight for the good, though I suppose that some of them have flaws. In the cults of the Far Right, there is virtually no moral responsibility, you can do what you want. Violence is also a drug, it seems for many of them to be the only fulfillment they can attain.

It is far from a pleasant thing to think about for the holiday season, but we don’t have to dwell on it. Just be aware of it, and try to comprehend out what people, and what psychological needs, are behind it. There have always been weird belief systems, and cults, but the Age of the Internet has served as the catalyst to bring together the crackpots and haters and sociopaths.

And where there are marks and suckers, there are always those who will exploit them. I have always believed that if everyone was required to read many classic novels in school, many more people would gain insights and empathy into the human condition, which is the antidote against the poison of ignorant credulousness and hate which “Q” and his followers share.

Even with all that, one can have a Happy Thanksgiving!

11 Responses

  1. Interesting essay, William.

    I wish I could believe as you do that better education is the way to prevent people from developing bizarre political ideologies. But having spent my entire life around academia, I have seen far too many extremely well educated people who embrace crazy political ideas.

    One professor I knew, a scientist, had advanced degrees from two of the top universities in the world. He was fluent in several languages, well read in them all, a lover of classical music, opera and theatre, yet held very strange right-wing views over the decades that I knew him. When we first met, I probably would have described his ideology as “libertarian” but later he became deeply involved in Tea Party politics.

    His political views were often quite frightening, although he never acted on them violently. That he would embrace right-wing ideology was especially disturbing since he was European-born Jew and a survivor of Auschwitz. He had personally experienced Nazism and its horrors. Most of his family died in Auschwitz. Yet later he was not immune to the pull of extremist right-wing politics. Was he psychologically damaged as a result of his death camp experiences? Quite possibly. Or was he just a crazy genius? (There was no doubt his intelligence was on the genius level.) I do not have the answers to those questions. He passed away a few years ago.

    His case is unique in some respects. But as I wrote above, I have known many other highly educated people who also believe in crazy ideas, political and otherwise. They are not people lacking in significant accomplishments or status in society. Quite the contrary. There is something else at work here but exactly what is difficult to know.

    Another point: Anyone who has studied the history of Nazism knows that more than a few of the Nazi elite were highly educated people. They were lovers of art, literature and music, yet psychologically warped to a degree that is probably impossible to ever understand. Education alone cannot be the answer to solving the problem of evil in society and it is indeed evil we are dealing with.

    • Another example, of course, would be the physicist William Shockley (inventor of the transistor). Brilliant guy, Nobel prize winner, who nevertheless held fanatical right-wing and racist views.

      Come to think of it, there’s also the case of Revilo Oliver (yes, that was his real name – parents who give their kids palindromes for names are uniquely sadistic). He was a professor of Classics and Philology at the University of Illinois. He was also a disciple of the notorious Francis Yockey (the father of American Naziism), one of the founders of both the John Birch Society and the American Nazi Party, and the mentor of neo-Nazi William Pierce (founder of the National Alliance and author of the Turner Diaries).

      Then there’s Francis Yockey himself. He was no slouch academically, either (cum laude JD from Notre Dame). He was a paleo-Nazi and fanatical antisemite, who was associated both with Father Coughlin and the German-American Bundt before the war, and aided Mosley’s British Fascists as well. He was almost certainly spying for the Germans throughout the war. Nearly every Nazi organization in the US can trace itself back to him one way or another. In spite of his very public Nazi and Fascist affiliations, he was retained by the War Department after the war to work on war crimes prosecutions. In that position, he is believed to have aided several prominent Nazis in avoiding capture and prosecution. He was fired from that position in 1946. He wrote a rather turgid fascist manifesto entitled “Imperium”. I haven’t read it, but I’ve been o the lookout for a copy.

      Really, there’s nothing about education that can prevent you from being a raving lunatic. I wish there were, but there isn’t.

      • When I consider names given to children by sadistic parents, I always think of the philanthropist Ima Hogg, that wealthy but unfortunate woman stuck with the terrible name. Her father was the one who named her. What a monster he must have been!

        My parents were acquainted with Miss Hogg (as she preferred to be called) and remembered her as a gracious, lovely woman. She gave a great deal of money to worthy causes over the course of her life.

  2. Help, help! I’m in moderation h*ll (he says, trying to avoid this being moderated, too). I think it’s because I used the r*st, n*z*, and a couple of other “trigger words”.

  3. Yes, education–and I did mention reading novels, as opposed to general education– is absolutely not a guarantee of humanity and tolerance. But it helps. Most professors, at least when I went to school, are on the liberal side. I did not know many of them all that well, but from various comments in class, or personal interactions, I decided that various ones were more often on the “better” side of things. I would even suggest that the powerful and unsettling examples which have been provided here, might be so noteworthy because of their relative infrequency. But I can”t prove that. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

    I could say that the most important thing is good parenting, which is true, but I cannot tell which people to have children, or to stop the bad and cruel people from having them. And it is admittedly also true that I could not force people to read novels, although I think they should be assigned in the mandatory education that one must take through secondary school. Great works often provide insight into other lives, and thus perhaps (not guaranteed) a better understanding of the human condition and a greater tolerance for diversity in all aspects, a possible counterforce to egomania.

    But certainly being very intelligent does not assure decency and fairness. I’ve known too many would-be intellectuals who admired the works of Ayn Rand. Even so, I would prefer a country where people did have grounding in the Humanities, and the great works of literature, than one where people were home schooled, and where there was no requirement to read anything specific, and thus no filter of knowledge against evil and simplistic propaganda disseminated on TV or radio or the internet.

    Right now, we have this very unsettling situation where by most reasonable standards, President Biden is doing a very good job with regard to the economy, and yet most of the people seem to think he is doing a bad job, which appears based on nothing more than propaganda, and higher gas prices, which are mostly a result of price gouging by oil companies. If we are in a “1984” world where facts do not matter, and where people can be convinced that up is down, we will have little protection against totalitarianism. “Big Brother raised the chocolate ration.” “Trump did a great job dealing with the pandemic.” A recent poll saw only 50% of the population giving Biden a favorable rating how he was handling the pandemic, despite immensely favorable comments from most in the medical profession, plus concrete data.

  4. Great essay! I remember in my reading on cults that they often attract the very intelligent. It makes it somewhat difficult to deprogram them. I have a very intelligent friend who believes that the Clintons killed large numbers of people. There is no reaching that part of her brain. She saw one of the cult films on the subject and will not believe anything I say on the subject.

    We have to keep trying, but it may be easier to reach the young.

    Not only did we have the job numbers in the recent months corrected to the tune of an additional 600k jobs, we just had the lowest new jobless numbers in a long time. Got to love the Biden economy! Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  5. Now I’m in moderation. I’ve always been such a bad team player.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Happy Thanksgiving. I certainly did not do it, it must have hit a trigger of some sort. Unfortunately I do not seem to have the ability to fix it. But most of everyone’s posts get through, fortunately, so do not get frustrated, even though it is irritating. Sometimes they do eventually get through, as Propertius’s did, unless he rewrote it. Sometimes the all-powerful RD is nice enough to dredge them out, I think.

      • I know you didn’t do it, William. I must have used a trigger word or two. Who knows?

        Have a nice holiday tomorrow. I’m sorry about UCLA’s loss to the Zags.

    • Me too! I used the “r-ist” word, the “f-ist” word, and the “nz” word, but it was hard to avoid given that I was listing some prominent American “nz” sympathizers who happen to have been both well-educated and on either on the wrong side in WW2 or infamous for their views about people of different ethnic groups. I think using more than a few of those terms puts you in Coventry.

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